MULTIPLE TAXES, LEVIES IN SOUTH-EAST: BUSINESS OPERATORS CRY OUT

MULTIPLE TAXES, LEVIES IN SOUTH-EAST: BUSINESS OPERATORS CRY OUT

*Our businesses have crumbled under the weight of taxes, levies—Aba trader

*Touts, illegal revenue agents taken over Anambra —Ontisha resident

*Soludo must chase them away to win the heart of Ndi Anambra—CD

*We’re at mercy of touts—Umuahia Keke operators, drivers

*Taxes and levies are too much — Abakiliki businessman

*Causes price increases of goods, reduces customers’ patronage—Enugu traders

*We used technology to stop touting in revenue collection –Abia Govt

BUSINESS operators, big and small, are crying out over sundry levies being imposed on them by the various governments in the South- East region. They lament that many of the levies do not go into the coffers of government. Some alleged, however, that the illegal collectors are working for some senior government officials.

That is the reason, in some states, touts openly operate freely. Even petty traders who display their wares on tables are not left out. Shop owners in the markets complain too. Tricycle operators had on occasions embarked on protests in some states, against this. Commercial drivers, daily lament that they are at the mercy of the revenue collectors on their various routes.

In Anambra State, the residents, particularly Onitsha, the commercial city, cry daily over the embarrassing number of taxes and levies, legal and illegal, imposed on them. They are worried over the violent manner they go about their activities of revenue collection.

They lament that many businesses will collapse in the state if this is not checked. According to them, Onitsha is gradually returning to the pre-Bakassi boys era, before the administration of Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, which returned peace and security in the state with Bakassi boys until the outfit was hijacked for political reasons.

The menace of these revenue touts got to a stage that the former Commissioner for Transport in the state, Dr. Christian Madubuko, had to set up what he called Focused Initiative against Touting, FIAT, which briefly brought some sanity in the state’s revenue collection, revealing in the process, that most of the revenue receipts and money collected were not approved and did not go to the government.

Launching FIAT then, Madubuko said: “What we are here today to do is to flag off, Focused Initiative Against Touting, FIAT, in Anambra State; this initiative is also against street trading and loading and offloading along the roads, and extortion of all kinds from market women by touts.

“It is very unfortunate that when people are coming from Delta State on their way from Lagos, Benin and other states into Anambra State, through Onitsha, you will see some individuals wielding sticks and other dangerous weapons extorting money from motorists. We are saying no to that; enough is enough! It is an embarrassment to the state government, Ministry of Transport and the people of the state.

“We will no longer tolerate that, I am here to warn all the people who are involved in that to leave the state or get ready for war, because we will stop at nothing to make sure that we stop their activities. I also understand that they do day and night shifts, and their illicit activities are mostly in the night. We will chase them here day and night, we are ready for them.

“You can see we have the Police, Army, Navy, DSS, NSCDC, WWF, ATMA; we are ready for the fight and we will fight tooth and nail to ensure the survival of our state because these people are killing the state; it is either we stamp out touts in the state or touts will stamp us out.

“These revenue touts and their collaborators have given the state unbearable embarrassment, they go about flashing fake authority papers and dropping names of commissioner and senior government officials, they claim to have sent them to work. We are here today to tell you that they do not have the authority, approval or mandate of the state government to do what they are doing. They are criminals who are destroying the image of the state and they must leave the state. What do you expect from a criminal, a criminal will always look for legitimacy, he will try to intimidate you by telling you that the commissioner or a highly placed person in government sent him and that is to show you that what they are doing is illegal.

“They start by flashing some fake and forged authority papers in your face; they do not have the authority of the state government to be where they are extorting money from people. We are here today to let them know that we have come; nobody has given any authority paper to the touts. Giving them paper is legitimizing their criminal activities, therefore, they do not have the mandate of the state government to operate. The Ministry of Transport has not asked anybody or group to collect N35, 000 for wrongful parking; that is to tell you that their activities are illegal.

“We are therefore calling on the Park Managers; those who own parks to come to the Ministry of Transport for registration, so we know who they are and for them to have legitimacy to operate.”

Madubuko’s good initiative did not last long as it was sabotaged from within the government and the touts went back in full swing. He did not realize that there were “big men” behind the touts, so they are untouchable as those they are fronting for know who is who in government and always make calls when their boys encounter problems.

Shortly after that, Madubuko had a problem which led to his sack and subsequent kidnap. That was the end of the story of FIAT.

Reacting to the activities of the touts in the state, the Campaign for Democracy, CD, Anambra State chapter called on the incoming governor of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo to battle them frontally to give the state a new image.

Speaking through its state Chairman, Comrade Ekene Nnadi, CD said: “While we congratulate Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, for his election victory, we must remind him that he won the election based on his personal integrity and capacity and the good name he has created over the years while serving the Nigeria public in academics and political appointments, not because of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, its leadership and its administration, because the present administration destroyed the state with touts and illegal revenue contractors and collectors.

“In the history of Anambra State, we have never seen the level of illegal violent revenue collection, collectors, touts and touting that is being witnessed presently in the state. So, since Prof. Soludo did not win the election based on performance of APGA as a party, he must therefore work for the people of the state, by addressing one of their greatest worries, which is illegal violent revenue collection and increasing menace of touting in the state and Onitsha in particular.

“We can say that the greatest achievement of the present administration in the state is importation of illegal violent revenue contractors, collectors and violent touts that have taken over the state and Onitsha in particular. The present government imported them and legitimized them, and they have graduated from violent revenue collectors to violent touts, hoodlums and gangsters collecting all manner of illegal receipted and un-receipted levies from all class of people, with intimidation, harassment and in some cases, killings.

“They are everywhere in the state and Onitsha in particular, in all the nooks and crannies, you will see them. You will see them wielding sticks and all manner of dangerous weapons forcefully and violently collecting different kinds of revenue from motorists, market men and women, travelers, residents and visitors who have come to transact business in the state. They wait for people who have gone to buy building materials; anything at all, you are carrying on the roads in the state and Onitsha in particular, you must pay or pay with your life or life-threatening wounds. They operate with all sorts of illegal tickets and non-tickets; the state has turned to where youths do nothing else than collecting non-existing and illegal revenues for their bosses and for themselves. They operate in the day and in the night without any control or checks. Do you know that Anambra State is the only state in the country where people use Marker Pen to collect revenues, Marker pen is their ticket, go and check from Upper Iweka to Onitsha-Owerri Road and everywhere in the state.

“We want to advise Prof. Soludo that if he wants to win the heart of the people of the state, first of all, let him chase out all those illegal violent revenue contractors and collectors, and the violent revenue touts that in the state and Onitsha in particular. He should also stop the idea of contracting revenue collection out to individuals and businessmen. It is breeding violent touts and revenue collectors.

“Revenue should be collected by government has done in other states of the federation not contractors or businessmen; the incoming government must deal with all the illegal revenue touts and collectors; they are bringing shame and reproach to Anambra State. Go everywhere in the country, you will hear about the menace of touts and revenue collectors in Anambra State. People are no more coming to Onitsha and other parts of the state to do business because of the violent and illegal revenue collectors and activities of touts.”

In some instances, it has been alleged that drivers have been murdered or their conductor killed for refusing to part with money demanded by the touts. People have been hit by vehicles while drivers struggle with the touts who want to take over the steering. Those revenue contractors and their collectors are described by the people as so heartless that they collect revenues from the poor and those struggling to survive like wheel barrow pushers and women who sell vegetables and fruits.

In Umuahia, Abia State capital, tricycle operators have cried out against exploitation and imposition of illegal levies on them by touts, some of who claim to work for the local government council.

One of the operators who simply identified himself as Ben said that daily, tricycle (keke) operators pay all manner of levies to touts masquerading as government taskforce.

He said that apart from purchasing the government approved daily ticket of N200.00 and annual emblem of N3, 500, touts at Isigate area of Umuahia still impose N100 levy on the operators every day.

“If you go to Olokoro, another group of touts pretending to be taskforce collect N150 from us drivers each day. At Agbama they collect N100 also until we protested and those ones stopped.

“We are operating at the mercy of touts in Abia. There are different groups of people claiming to be taskforce, collecting money daily from keke operators and commercial vehicle drivers, yet, government is not doing anything about it.”

Similarly, a truck driver bemoaned the fate of commercial vehicle drivers in Abia State over the imposition of illegal levies on them by touts disguising as taskforce and revenue agents. The driver who would not want his name in print said that these taskforce/revenue agents would forge a non-existent emblem and demand that drivers produce evidence that they have purchased them.

“These people are wicked, especially those on the roads around Ngwa area. When they stop you, they will ask you to show your emblem receipt. When you produce it, they claim that there is one you did not buy and they will ask you to pay double of the annual fee for the emblem. We buy emblem for N10, 000 annually but these people will claim that there is one you did not buy and take N20, 000 for that alone. We are suffering.

“At Aba, they will show you many emblems and insist that you buy them. This is too bad because when we travel to other states, it is not like that.”

He also said that truck drivers pay daily ticket of N1000/N2000 depending on the size of the truck while bus drivers pay N500 daily.

In his reaction, the President, Abia State Coalition of Business Groups and Associations, Ambassador Darlington Kalu decried the indiscriminate sealing of houses in Aba by officials of the Abia State Internal Revenue over alleged default in payment of revenues.

He also frowned at the collaboration of some judicial officers in the operation who issue “kangaroo court orders to seal people’s houses without due process” even the said defaulters are not even aware that there is any pending suit against them at the court.

Efforts to get the reaction from the Abia State Board of Internal Revenue were not successful as the Chairman, Mr. Celestine Agbara did not pick calls put across to him. He also did not respond to a text message sent to him.

In Ebonyi State, the story is the same as business operators in the state also lament the problem of multiple taxes. While the state government explained that the taxes and levies were being used for infrastructure development in the state, business owners are of the view that what they are paying as taxes is too much.

A trader at the Abakaliki Building Materials market alleged that the money collected from them in the name of levies was enormous and provocative. He alleged that by January 2022, most shops within the Building Materials market may not be able to open for business as the government has imposed a levy of N500,000 on them.

“My brother, what we are passing through in Ebonyi is not what I can say. Since we were forced out of the old Building Materials market, several taxes and levies have been imposed on us. We keep praying and paying. By January 2022, we have been told to pay N500,000 each.”

There is an unverifiable fact that most businesses are shutting down in the state following the harsh economic policies of the present administration.

In Enugu, a bus driver who plies Abakpa-Holy Ghost-Old park route, Sunday Emmanuel said that they pay more than N1,600 as levy  daily “but if you are out of luck, you will pay more than what you earn in a day.

“Bus drivers pay more than N1,600 daily as levy to government, police, tout and union. You have to pay N350 ticket for local government, N250 for union levy, N600 to police for loading at Holy Ghost roundabout, N200 to police and touts at Old Park; N200 to police and touts at Abakpa and most annoying is the MOT that will not control traffic but intimidate us and extort upwards of N5,000.

“The MOT which is supposed to control traffic will leave their job and hide to monitor who will break the traffic rules and if you fail to bribe them with N5,000, they will take you to their office where the permanent secretary will charge you N25,000. Drivers are suffering in Enugu State. The state government knows what we are passing through but keeps quiet.”

Also speaking, a businesswoman at Ogbete main market, one of the major markets in Enugu, Mrs. Ebere Odo, decried heavy levies imposed on them.

“I am not happy the way the government is taxing us. I would have joined another line of business long ago but because of heavy taxation. After paying levies imposed on us, we will not make any meaningful profit from any transaction and if you increase the prices of your goods in order to make profit and repay your loan, your goods will not be sold because people don’t have the money. The painful thing is that there is hardship in the land and instead of government to reduce taxation, they are increasing it and creating more avenues to tax us.

“Imagine a situation where a lorry carrying your load enters the market to offload, a levy will be imposed even as much as N10, 000, depending on the size.”

Lamenting, a businessman, Ikechukwu Ugwuogor said the reason prices of goods are high is because: “Before a lorry carrying your goods enters the market, you have to pay N2,500 at the gate. You have to pay for offloading depending on the size of vehicle; pay N250 for maintenance of park, N1,800 for electric bill, N1,800 for sanitation, N3,000 to OMATA yearly for shop, pay security levy and many others.

“The worst is imposing payment of electricity bill that we are not using. Paying for sanitation and also paying for the sweeping of parks in the market. How do you reconcile this?”

In Nsukka, the situation is the same as Commercial Tricycle Operators Union in Nsukka Local Government Area have decried what they described as high levy charges in the council area.

Members of the union who spoke to South-East Voice said each of them pays operation levy of N250 daily before being allowed to be on the roads.

One of the commercial cyclists, Nnaemeka Ugwu, disclosed that one of their members and a father of four, Nicholas Ugwu, from Eha-Alumona in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State was killed by revenue collectors over levy in September.

Following the embarrassing activities of revenue touts in Owerri which residents have been complaining about, Imo State Government has dissolved all revenue collectors operating in the state capital, Owerri, and appointed new ones.

However, Abia State Government has said it has used technology to eliminate touting in revenue collection in the state.

Deputy Governor of the state, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, who doubles as the Chairman of the State’s Internally Generated Revenue, IGR Council, explained that touting activities undermine government’s efforts at providing infrastructure to the people.

He further explained that the state has tackled the crude method of collecting revenue through automation as consolidated demand notices issued by the state revenue agency contain all the taxes and revenues an individual or company is expected to pay to the government annually.

“I commend Gov. Ikpeazu for creating the IGR Council. When you consider where we were before we came in and where we are now, you will appreciate the efforts of this administration.  We have been able to introduce lots of technology into revenue collection. We have laid a solid foundation to ensure that the IGR base of the state keeps growing. Government has harmonised the payment of revenues through e-ticketing which is the first of its kind in the country.

“Today, all revenues of the state can only be generated through e-tickets. Abia is the only state doing e-ticketing. No more crude method of collecting revenue. The process of revenue collection is now seamless and no longer cumbersome. Our consolidated demand notices contain all the taxes/revenues an individual or company is expected to pay to the government. The problem of multiple taxes has also been settled in Abia through the introduction of consolidated demand notices.

“If you see anyone collecting revenue by cash and other crude methods, such a person is not from the government. Government won’t tolerate touts who parade themselves as revenue collectors in the state,” he said.

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